25 September 2009, Friday
The cab picked me up at 2:30 pm at home. I got to the airport where I scanned my passport at the Self-Check in Kiosk at Delta. I went through security and got to the gate area by 3:00 pm. I don't board till about 5:30 so I have a lot of time to kill. The news is all about three separate terrorist bombing attempts here in the U.S.; all were caught before any bombings actually occurred.
I started the book Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. I've liked his other books, so I'm looking forward to this one. This book is about his travels in England.
I read several chapters and then heard that my flight to Atlanta was delayed. The plane landed in Lexington about an hour late, but they turned it around fairly quickly. The pilot mentioned that they were late because a plane in front, carrying the Florida football team and coaches was slow to land.
After about an hour, our plane landed in Atlanta. I walked to the international terminal and, there, walked around looking at the shops and restaurants. My flight to Dubai boarded about 9:30 and we were on the runway by 10 pm. The plane was a 777 and there were three rows of seats, each with three seats (in coach). This is far better than the five-seat central row on some 747's. I sat next to two fellows working in security and police enforcement for contractors in Afghanistan. One from Texas was going to Kabul and the other, from New Jersey was going to a small base in southwestern Afghanistan. I talked to them quite a bit on the 14-hour flight. I watched the movies "Terminator 3" and "My Life in Ruins." I was served a flavorful dinner of baked chicken with herbs, lentils, rice pasta, salad and bread. It was better than most.
26 September 2009, Saturday
The flight was an overnighter. I slept a little but my eyes still felt like corn flakes. I had yogurt for breakfast and another dinner about one or two hours before we landed. The second dinner was pizza, couscous and a salad. Time is compressed when going eastward against the sun, so we missed a meal. We landed in Dubai about 8 pm, went through customs and then I caught a cab to my hotel. The driver was from Damascus, Syria and we talked a bit. Nice fellow. He taught me some Arabic words. I paid the fare plus tip, which came to $40.
I checked into the Ramada Continental which is not very far from the airport. Seems like a very nice hotel. I filled out my journal.
After my beer, I went back to my room to try and get some sleep. My biological clock is all messed up at this point.
27 September 2009, Sunday
My wake-up call came at 7:30. I got up and took a shower. When I first turned the shower on, the nozzle was pointed straight out. A large amount of water went past the shower curtain before I realized it. The floor had a large pool of water on it. I had to use three towels to control most of the water. I adjusted the nozzle and started over with better results. I went down to the main floor for breakfast. The included breakfast was in a very nice cafe. I went to the fruit bar and had pineapple, honeydew, watermelon, almonds, cucumber, hummus, dates, slice of cheese, and dried apricots along with my coffee. Also available were hot breakfasts including a chicken dish, veal sausage and other items. There were also made-to-order omelets as well as a variety of pastries. I stayed with just the fruit plate.
After breakfast, I checked out and took the free shuttle (car and driver) to the Emirates Airline terminal at the airport. I got to the airport at 9 AM, four hours early. This is a very nice airport, interesting architecture and internal landscaping. After security and passport control, I went to my gate area, walked around to look at the shops, had a Starbucks coffee and filled out my journal. Next time I come to Dubai, I will take more time and take a tour or two. This is a very modern city with lots of new construction including the world's tallest building.
At about 12:00 PM, I went through the gate counter and had my ticket accepted and Indian visas checked. We waited in another room. Then I heard someone reciting the Call for Prayer over the loudspeaker. It was beautiful.
There was a fellow constantly coughing in the waiting area; I was sitting next to him. I discreetly moved away. I was worried about catching swine flu. I had to fill out forms for both Dubai and India about swine flu symptoms and everyone is worried about it. After I boarded the plane, the coughing fellow sat directly behind me and coughed all the way to Kolkata. His cough was unimpeded by hand or sleeve and I could even feel my hair flutter.
Upon take off, I saw the tallest building, lots of development in the desert and lots of linear sand dunes. We flew over the ocean for awhile and then I saw extensive estuaries along a coast line. I thought they must be in the Gujarat region of India, but according to the GPS map, this has to be the estuaries in southern Pakistan. At dinner, I chose a vegetarian matter.
We landed in the rain at Kolkata at 7:00 PM and went through H1N1 screening first. They actually took our temperatures. I don't know how the "cougher" got through, if he did. Then I went through passport control and finally customs. I exited the airport expecting to see taxi stands and official taxis, but there were none, and no hotel shuttles either. All official taxis were in town for the 9-day Durga Puja festival. A fellow came up to asking if I needed a taxi. After looking around I asked how much it would cost to go to my hotel, the Crowne Oberoi Grand Hotel. His manager showed me a card with rates to various hotels. The Grand was listed as 1647 rupees for a non-air-conditioned car (there were no options available at this time). I said OK. I got in the car and felt a little apprehensive in the junker. They rolled the windows down for me and then it started to rain. I handed 2000 rupees to the manager and he said the difference would be the tip. We spent a good hour driving in the dense city traffic the whole way. We must have turned down 100 small streets and honked the horn about a million times. Outside, it was like Mardi Gras, but denser and more humid. I tried to take pictures, but my camera was fogged up from the humidity. It was also thundering and the rain got heavier.
We eventually arrived at the hotel gates of the Crowne Oberoi Grand Hotel. Armed guards checked out the car and searched the trunk. Then they opened the gates and let us drive into the compound. I got out and shook hands with the cabby. I was expecting him to say "you must pay me now," but he didn't. I next encountered more guards and had to be searched and my meager luggage X-rayed. Once in the lobby, I was amazed; it was, indeed, a Grand Hotel. And, somehow, I got a very good rate (Frances got it for me). My room was very nice. I took pictures after my camera cleared up.
I was too tired to eat and not really hungry anyway. I went to the bar and had a couple of pints of Kingfisher. An old man with died hair played a Gibson and picked a series of Stan Getz style songs, all of which I recognized. I was the only one there, so I would mention the musicians and the song and clap. Eventually others came in. I met a family from North Carolina coming back to visit family in Kolkata. They explained the festival for me. I also talked to three fellows from the states who had kayaked the Mekong from Luang Prabang to the delta. After the bar, I went back to my room and filled out my journal and watched CNN and BBC. I had a message that I would be picked up at 11:30 AM tomorrow and be taken to the Pandaw river boat.
28 September 2009, Monday
I woke up for good at 5 AM. I got up and took a shower by 7:30 and then went down to the cafe for breakfast. There was a very nice buffet and cooked-to-order hot food as well. I had papaya, pineapple, cantaloupe, pomegranate, and a vegetable-filled omelet with toast and coffee. I noticed mangosteens on the platter but never got around to getting one. I drank my coffee and read the newspaper and then went to my room to pack. I saved a page of the newspaper that showed part of the festival because I didn't get any pictures of my own. I might get some tonight though.
I watched CNN for awhile and then checked out at 11 AM. I also broke a 1,000-rupee note for smaller bills. I bought my rupees at home, so I didn't have to change money. One of the Pandaw representatives came by and I told him who I was. He took me outside to see one of the durgas behind the hotel. I took several pictures. They are remarkable examples of temporary cultural art. They are made of straw covered by Ganges clay, dried, shaped and painted to represent Durga, as well as Ganesh (elephant headed god) and other attendant gods. At the end of the festival, all durga statues are very ceremoniously dumped into the Ganges river (this process is called the Durga Puja; see Durga Puja at Wikipedia).
After a short while, several of us boarded the bus and headed up the river. We eventually loaded onto a smaller bus and made our way to a landing (ghat). A wood and bamboo boat came by and took us to the Pandaw river boat. This is the maiden voyage on this river. We went directly to lunch buffet where we met others who had previously boarded the boat. We had a variety of curries, bread, rice, fruit, salad, etc. I had curries and rice.
At 2:30, we boarded an air-conditioned tourist boat and headed back down the Hughli River (a distributary of the Ganges). We saw three separate festivities where they dumped the durga statues into the water.
After a pleasant couple of hours, we returned to the Pandaw. By then I was very damp from perspiration. I took a shower, changed to shorts and another shirt and went bare foot. About 5:30, I went to the Sun Deck and was served toasted peanuts (spicy) and other toasted treats prepared on a grill on the Sun Deck. The crew were introduced and then we went to dinner at 7:30. We had mutton yogurt curry, palak paneer, daal, thin bread, etc. I asked for acchar and got a nice spicy one that we shared at our table. I sat with four Australians and Brits.
After dinner, I went to the Sun Deck where I saw a performance by two dancing folk musicians and a table player. I took photos, but I don't know if they will turn out, because there was very little light. They were very interesting and I liked the music.
After that, I went to my cabin and caught up on my journal.
29 September 2009, Tuesday
I woke up for good at 5:00 AM. I got up at 5:45, brushed my teeth and went up for coffee at 6 AM. I went for breakfast about 6:30 and had fruit plate (cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon), cheese (Jarlsburg and Gouda), toast and fried eggs.
At 8:30 we broke into two groups and boarded a launch to go to shore. After crossing the muddy bank, we loaded onto air-conditioned buses and spent about 1.5 hours driving back to Kolkata. Earlier, we had to move the Pandaw upstream at low tide in order to get under a bridge. We stopped at several places including Mother Teresa's missionary (see this Wikipedia entry), St. John's Church (the oldest standing church in India), and a monument to the "Black Hole of Calcutta" (see Black Hole of Calcutta at Wikipedia). We went to a very nice buffet lunch in Kolkata and then continued our tour of colonial Calcutta. We took pictures of Victoria's Memorial (see Wikipedia entry). On the way back, we saw a Durga Puja celebration where people were dancing and dumping pink powder on each other. We got out of the bus and followed them for a ways and took several photos. Then we went to the former French colony of Chandernagor (see Chandannagar at Wikipedia) where we viewed a museum of French colonial areas of Bengal. I noticed a driveway composed exclusively of 2-4 inch cobbles of well-rounded quartz. I took two photos. I talked to the museum curator about the origin of the cobbles and he indicated that they were from the river as I expected. He said the cobble size decreased downstream toward Kolkata. However, I don't think the pebbles are the typical sediment load of this part of the Ganges. I think it is a record of some other event or condition.
After the museum, we headed back to the Pandaw. It had docked at a village just north of Chandernagore and we arrived during celebrations of Durga Puja. People were very happy to see us and were very friendly. I shook hands with many of them. After boarding the boat and taking a quick shower, I went to the Sun Deck and watched the festivities for a couple of hours.
The temperature is in the mid-90's F and humidity is pretty high, but not to the point where you can see it in the air. Several showers a day do help.
We went to a program discussion at 7 and then to dinner at 7:30. We were served a variety of Indian foods including lentil soup, cauliflower pakora, okra curry, eggplant dish, a chicken curry, some yogurt and rice and flat bread. For dessert, we had Kiwi jelly (gelatin) to which we added yogurt. It was a delicious meal.
I went back to my cabin and filled out my journal. We have to leave the boat by 6:30 tomorrow for an early excursion.
30 September 2009, Wednesday
I didn't sleep well during the night and woke up for good about 5. I got up about 5:30, took a shower and went to the Sun Deck for tea.
At 6:30, we disembarked at Kalna (see Wikipedia entry) (see Google Maps) and got on trishaws to go to the terracotta temples. The hand-carved terracotta miniature bas reliefs were remarkable. I took lots of photographs.
We returned to the boat and immediately went to breakfast by 8. I had fruit (the usual three), cheese, poached eggs, ham, toast and coffee. After breakfast, I went to the Sun Deck. We cruised upstream the rest of the morning. We saw lots of jute plants being harvested and processed. We also saw a school of Gangetic dolphins (Wikipedia entry) jumping in the water. They are grey, long-beaked, and nearly blind. A Calcutta television crew is onboard filming our trip (while in West Bengal state). They've filmed us on the Sun Deck and on shore excursions. They interviewed me for a couple of minutes. This trip is the first commercial passenger river-boat trip since 1932 (or maybe since the 1920's) and this is an historic event. Crowds of people come out to the landings to watch us pass.
We went to buffet lunch where we had a variety of dishes including potato-bell pepper dish, fish masala, soup (hot and sour), vegetable dish, sprouts, bread, fruit dish (cooked).
After lunch we all went to the Sun Deck and watched the birds. One of the staff is a naturalist who had a spotting scope. He pointed out lots of birds for me. He had a good Indian bird book (I bought it later in Rajasthan). The naturalist is also a medical doctor.
We docked at Matiare about 6 PM, almost dark. We disembarked through crowds of people there to watch us. Walking through the narrow streets, we came to a brass metalworking shop. The first shop melted down old metal and made ingots which were then pressed into brass sheets and cut out into a variety of shapes. Then the shapes are distributed to various workshops where the shapes were beaten into plates, bowls, etc. Patterns were then beaten onto the plates. Several of our group bought plates. We then walked back to the boat.
I took another shower and then went to the Sun Deck. A group of about seven musicians performed several humorous songs. They played a plucked bucket-like instrument, a four-stringed small mandolin, flutes, hand-bellow organ, tablas, and other instruments. I got several photos and short movies.
After the performance, we went to dinner where we had battered mini-corn, daal, carrot dish, goat curry (labeled mutton), flat bread, rice, and a cardomen rice pudding for dessert. After dinner, I stayed on the Sun Deck for an hour or so and then went to bed.
1 October 2009, Thursday
I got up at 6. The boat had been charging upstream for hours. I took a shower and went to the Sun Deck for coffee. Rajvia, the naturalist, pointed out an open-beak stork, a blue Kingfisher, some striking black and white starlings, a curl-tail drongo and several other birds.
I went down for breakfast and had pineapple, cantaloupe, cheese, sprouts, a puffy flat bread, and some ham.
After breakfast, I went back to the Sun Deck to watch the passing villages and countryside. About 10, we docked at Hazardwari (thousand-door palace) (see Google Maps) in the Murshidabad district (Wikipedia entry) and visited the museum of artifacts belonging to the Nawab (Muslim sheik). I took photos of the Palace. Then we went to the abandoned Kaba (Katra) Mosque (see Google Maps) which was made of terracotta tiles and stones from earlier Hindu temples. An earthquake destroyed the mosque. Then we took a long pony-cart ride to Katgola Palace, a Nawab family mansion (see Google Maps). The temperature was 42 degrees C. After that, we took the carts back to the Pandaw.
I took a shower and went to lunch. It was a buffet and I had fish curry, potato dish, eggplant dish, spinach with miniature corn, carrot-orange soup, saffron rice and mixed pickle and mango pickle. I had a Kingfisher beer for drink.
After lunch I caught up on my journal. I also fell asleep for half and hour or so. I went to the Sun Deck and watched the landscape and birds and saw a Pied Kingfisher, Open-billed Stork, Jungle Mynah and another Mynah along with egrets, the Common Kestrel and Crow. At 4 PM, we went to the Saloon where Mr. Raj Singh gave a lecture for about 45 minutes on the religions of India. It was a very insightful overview of religious thought and how it developed.
After the lecture, I went to the Sun Deck and watched the scenery and birds. There are large numbers of people who have come out to the banks to see us. We had our nightly briefing at 7 and the dinner gong rang at 7:30. For dinner, we had batter-fried Gangetic prawns with a nice chili sauce, baby corn soup, eggplant dish, rice, Korma Matter (goat), cabbage dish, acchar, flat bread (chapatti), and some local sweet (a semolina with infused syrup, silver paper and coconut). I had a "lime soda" for drink (I got the salty variety).
For most of the day, we have been on the Bhagirathi (Bha-geer-atee) River. It's actually the same river that we have been on before, but it just changes name from Hughli to Bhagirathi about a particular confluence.
I went to the Sun Deck and talked for awhile and then went to bed.
2 October 2009, Friday
I woke up at 5 AM, but didn't get up till 5:30. I took a shower and washed a pair of pants and a shirt while in the shower. At 6, the engines started and I went up to the Sun Deck to get a cup of coffee. Rajvia, a medical doctor, came up and brought his binoculars and spotting scope. I spotted a Common Buzzard (like a hawk), we saw a Chestnut-colored Kukul, Black Kite, White-throated Kingfisher, and many other birds. We are now in a canal. We had to pass under some very low electrical wires, so the government cut off power to the region till our boat passed through. The sailors used wooden poles to push the wires up over the superstructure, if necessary. We passed under without touching the wires.
I went to breakfast at 8 and had watermelon and cantaloupe with buffalo yogurt poured over it. All the yogurt we've been eating is buffalo yogurt (it's creamier than others). I also had a cheese omelet, little bit of ham, baked beans and toast, plus cheese. I went back to the Sun Deck where there is a breeze; elsewhere on the boat, it is pretty hot. We saw and heard House Sparrows which are now apparently everywhere. I saw a very large Purple Heron and a Black-shouldered Kite. We passed under a bridge where several hundred swallows were flying, including Red Swallow, Barn Swallow.
At 10, I went to a lecture by one of our guides, Summit (pron. Shumeet) in the Saloon about the "Brief History of Bengal." At 11, as the lecture was over, we had to stay on the lower levels because we were passing under electrical grounding wires. We were not in danger of being electrocuted; they just didn't want people being hit by the wires. Of course the boat hit the wires and the whole array shook, but nothing happened. We hit another set of TV cable wires that were there illegally. I believe that we broke them. I saw Green Bee-eaters and Large Pied Wagtail, while waiting at the locks at Farrakh (see Google Maps).
The lunch gong rang at 12:30. I had grilled chicken (nice herbs), potato dish, aubergine-black pepper dish, rice, leek and lentil soup, and sprout salad. At lunch, Alex said that we have to stay in the lock area overnight because today is the birthday of Gandhi Ji and there is no one here to operate the locks till tomorrow. According to the roster, we have 19 Aussies, 9 Brits (Welsh and England), 5 Americans, 4 Kiwis, 4 Belgians (French-speaking), and one German. Everyone is very nice.
We had a change in plan. Instead of going to Farakka for a market visit (we are docked at Farakka), we went to Gaur (see Gaur Wikipedia entry) to see some old mosque ruins. The temperature feels like it's more than 110 degrees and the humidity is high. I am developing diarrhea and probably have a fever (and I was dehydrated). The drive to Gaur and back was probably the worst excursion experience I've had. The two-hour drive there was in non-air-conditioned cars and there were so many potholes that we were constantly jolted. I didn't realize that I should not have gone until about 3 minutes into the trip. The ruins were interesting, but I felt so badly that I didn't enjoy them. I felt weak and light headed. And then we had the same 2-hour drive back. It was a nightmare for me and lots of others. Apparently lots of the passengers are sick. Dinner was ready when we got back, but I went straight to my cabin and went to sleep.
3 October 2009, Saturday
I had diarrhea through the night. I went to the toilet about 30 times and continued the trend for the morning. I must have had a pretty high fever because I had chills in the night. In the morning, Di (Diane and Raj are co-owners of the tourist service, Exotic Journeys Pvt. Ltd, exotic<at>del2.vsnl.net.in) sent Rajvia, who is also an M.D. to my cabin. I told him my symptoms and he said I still had a fever. He gave me three different sets of pills and some electrolytes. He said that I should feel better by tonight. He also said that a lot of people had this condition. I took the first round of pills and electrolytes and caught up on my journal.
I went to the Sun Deck briefly. Rajvia told me that 15 passengers were sick. I also learned the workers are back to operate the locks, but that they were asleep and couldn't be roused. I don't know when they'll get the locks working. The locks started working around 10 and we entered the lock around 10:30. The lock area was covered with Water Hibiscus; you can tell that the lock hasn't been used in a long time. I saw a White Breasted Waterhen walking on the Water Hibiscus while we were in the lock. After leaving the lock, we entered the Ganges proper. Water level is fairly high and all the bars near the lock are covered by water, but one can make out crops (rice?) on the bars.
The lunch gong announced lunch, but I didn't go. I didn't eat breakfast either. At about 2 PM, Di asked me if I had had lunch. I sad that I hadn't, so she and Neville brought me some delicious lemon soup, bread and rice.
The Ganges (in India it is called the Ganga or Gangama) is very wide, several miles. I can't tell if there are other channels and other bars and this is just one channel. I'll have to look at an aerial view on Google Earth. I saw another dolphin breaching. This one appeared to be alone.
We docked at Rajmahal (see Wikipedia entry). I took pictures of the Blue Mosque (the Rajmahal) from the boat. We then walked to another old mosque just upstream, Jami Mosque. There was a kaolinite quarry and processing plant next to the archaeological site. It was a very thick kaolinite deposit overlain by sandstone strata (the overburden). This cannot be a deposit of the Ganges floodplain. Raj Singh said it was part of the Rajmahal Mountains which are nearby. We went to the mosque, but it was nearly dark. I took a few pictures and then walked back to the boat by flashlight.
Back at the boat I went to the Sun Deck and Alex gave us a preview of what we are doing tomorrow. We enter Bihar state which is somewhat an outlaw region. The Indian government is sending a military detachment to accompany us while we're in this state. "Not to be alarmed."
When the dinner gong tolled, I went to dinner but only had soup and rice. I then went to my cabin to catch up on my journal. I've been drinking electrolytes most of the day. I went to bed at 10 after taking my round of medicine.
4 October 2009, Sunday
I woke up at 4:30. The engines started at 5:30 and I got up and took a shower. I still had diarrhea issues through the night but not as frequently as the previous night. I'm glad I have a cabin to myself. The sun is up already at 5:30. I took a photo of the sunrise. It gets dark around 6:30 PM.
While I was in the shower, I heard a loud noise and felt a jolt. I thought perhaps we'd hit a sandbar. The boat slowed to a crawl. On the Sun Deck I heard that we had hit a durga (the mud, stick and wood structure of the goddess) that was dumped into the Ganges. The durga wrapped around one of the propellers and apparently bent the rudder. We pulled over to a sandbar and several of the sailors got into the water to try and unwrap the prop. They were not able to do so because the current was too strong. So we will proceed to some dock where they can get at it. The other propeller is fine. From the Sun Deck I can see that there are several large sand bars. We are in a braided river system here. The bar next to us is composed largely of sand; I see no pebbles. I took photos. There are a line of mountains on our port side. These are still the Rajmahal Hills and are seemingly out of place in this region (so I'm told). I took a photo of a large sandstone outcrop which they had interpreted as an old fort, but it was solid, in-place rock.
I went to breakfast and had some type of porridge and bread. Then I ordered a masala omelet (vegetable and herbs, mostly tomato). I probably shouldn't have.
After breakfast they took the boat to another part of the bank so they could stand up and work on the propeller. There were eight sailors including the captain in the water. It's very hot and there is little breeze and the water looked very refreshing, so I removed my shirt, glasses, etc. and climbed down to the water and went to where the crew was. They were surprised to see me and said that now I was blessed by the Ganges. I was the only westerner in the water at first, but several others thought that it was a good idea and so three ladies went in too, after I had climbed back on board. The crew couldn't fix the propeller (actually the rudder), but they have a plan to go to a dock to get it repaired. Instead of making it to our afternoon stop, we will churn ahead on one engine and perhaps make that stop tomorrow.
We had lunch about 12:30, a couple of lamb (goat) curries and a vegetable dish, rice and bread. Apparently the lamb is really goat, but that's OK with me. [I found that the term mutton refers to both sheep and goat, and I have never seen a sheep here.]
We churned on up the river till we got to the village of Sahebganj (see Wikipedia entry). We took the accompanying India Government Survey boat to the village and got out to walk around. We visited St. Xavier School, a Jesuit school and met some of the kids and the headmaster. One young man was a journalist and interviewed me and some other passengers about our reason for visiting the region. He said he would sell the tape to television companies. He was also surprised that I was a paleontologist and brought me some fossil seeds. They were spindle-shaped silica or quartz. I'll have to look at them closely to see what they are. I don't think they are fossils, but quartz spindles eroded from a deformed metamorphic rock (hence the spindle shape). They do look like rice and other seeds though.
The crew is very surprised when I speak Hindi to them and even more surprised when I read it. Most of our trip so far is in Bengali language areas and I can neither speak nor read it.
We had a long boat ride back to the Pandaw because it proceeded upstream while we were in the village. After getting on board, we went to the Saloon Bar for our briefing and then to Dinner. For dinner we had a papaya dish (not sweet), a chicken-spinach dish, daal, rice, bread and I had acchar.
After dinner I went to my cabin and caught up on my journal. I went to bed around 10. I was very tired.
5 October 2009, Monday
The engine started around 4:30 and I got up at 5 to take a photo of the sunrise. I went back to bed and got up at 5:30 to take a shower. I didn't have to get up during the night that I remember. I went up on the Sun Deck a little before 6. There we saw a flock of Pen-bill Storks, 3 Adjutant Storks, Common Buzzard, Hill Crow, Pariah Kite, 2 terns, Cattle Egret, and a variety of swallows.
I went to breakfast about 7:45 and had toast, cheese and masala omelet with green chilies and tea. I learned that many of the passengers were sick, but that also the crew from north India are also sick. Only the crew from Kolkata are not sick.
We are in an area of India where the East Indian Company grew opium for the trade to China. No legal opium is grown here now. I've seen dolphins everyday, but quite a few today. We almost got stuck on another sandbar and had to do evasive moves to get back to the deeper part. We are only moving up the river at half speed (just one engine) so we may miss some of our planned stops. We'll see.
My shorts that I used for swimming yesterday have been hanging on the rail to dry. It is cloudy and we had some rain last night, but they are nearly dry now.
As we approached a village, we saw the confluence with the Kosi River (see Wikipedia entry) on the north side of the Ganga. The mouth bar (downstream from the confluence) was sand (I took photos of the bar and the nearby bridge). On the sand, I saw an Osprey sitting on twigs.
The survey boat has tied up with us on the starboard side and is acting as an engine for us, pushing us along. When we dock at the town, experts will look at the prop and rudder to see if they can be repaired. We were hit by a monsoonal storm about 11:30. The rain fell very heavily and the pilots couldn't see anything. We coasted along the leeward shore and then the wind picked up a bit and pushed us into the bank. The rain soaked everything on the Sun Deck and on the windward side of the boat.
At 12:30 we had lunch buffet and I had chicken broth, rice, lamb (goat) curry, goan fish curry, some kind of potato noodle and a thick soupy dish which I think had lemon yogurt in it (Kadi) as well as chapatti bread and sago or tapioca dessert with cardomen. Rainwater started dripping prodigiously along the port side of the dining room and all the tables had to be moved starboard.
After the wind died down, they finally managed to loosen the Pandaw from the shallow waters along the bank and head into the town of Antichak. There were at least 400 people there waiting to see us. We got into air-conditioned SUVs and drove a short distance to the Vikramshila Archaeological site (Wikipedia entry) (see Google Maps). It was an expansive excavation of a 1200-year-old Buddhist monastery. There must have been 10 journalists and TV reporters following our every step. In fact, we have had different reporters following us throughout the trip. After the archaeological site, we visited the interesting small museum attached to the site. This is where the finer pieces are stored. The temperature outside was about 95 degrees with high humidity. The museum was still hot and humid, but it also protected us from the sun. The exhibits were interesting and there was a model of the original monastery structure on the second floor. The marble on the floors is the most unusual I have ever seen. It looks like white marble but has discrete green blades in it. I'll have to figure out what it is.
On the way back to the boat we stopped where two fellows were climbing toddy palms to exchange pots of toddy sap. I took several pictures. We then stopped briefly at a small betel-leaf farm. The betel leaf is the leaf that makes up the packet of "betel nut" (not really betel nut, but a type of palm seed), composed of lime and other ingredients which is chewed throughout southern Asia.
Back on board our boat, local artisans brought hand woven goods on board for us to look at. I bought a nice hand woven scarf to take back home. I then attended a lecture on Gangetic Dolphins presented by members of the Indian Zoological Survey (Patna Office). It was a very interesting talk.
Immediately after the talk, we had dinner. I had prawn curry (using fish or shrimp sauce), potato curry, daal, rice, mixed pickle and a cottage cheese-simple syrup dessert. After the dinner the Zoological Survey presented a talk on the Greater Adjutant Stork species that is endangered. After that I went to bed.
6 October 2009, Tuesday
I got up at 5:30. The engines (our port engine plus the pilot boat) have been going awhile. I took a shower and went to the Sun Deck about 5:40. It's cloudy this morning. About 6:30 we had a sharp jolt and suddenly stopped. We had hit a sand bar. George, one of the passengers, was knocked down. I rushed over to help him up. He was OK. The Pandaw and pilot boat (attached to us) managed to wiggle us back off the sand bar and we proceeded in a different direction. We continued vey slowly up the river.
We have at least three new men on board the boat. I talked with all three separately and introduced myself. They worked with the Inland Waterway Authority of India, an engineering branch in charge of managing the Ganges. They were engineers (hydraulics experts). They had mapped all the channels the week before, but within one week, the channels had shifted. This happens especially as the water level starts to fall. They were all very knowledgeable and I enjoyed talking to them. They were constantly on the mobile, talking between the pilot boat, our boat and others. They told me about the difficulties in maintaining channels. We continued upstream all morning. It rained again, pretty hard, but it did not last very long.
At 12:30, we had lunch. For hot meals, we had vegetable soup, rice, dry chicken curry, carrot-peas curry, banana curry. Some of the sides were fried noodles, a banana (cooked) dish, another carrot dish. I had a guava for dessert. After lunch I went to my cabin to catch up on my journal (and took a short nap).
I went up to the Sun Deck to watch the river. I saw a lone Pellasis Sea Gull fly over (identified by Rajvia).
We arrived at Munger (Munghyr) (see Wikipedia entry) about 4:45 PM and got on the bank at dark. Reporters and locals were waiting for us. I was interviewed a couple of times by TV and newspaper journalists. We got on trishaws and were taken in a long procession, led by vehicles with flashing lights, across the village to the Bihar School of Yoga (Wikipedia entry), were we were met by more journalists. We entered the compound, took our shoes off and walked along the steps to a very clean and well-maintained meeting room. A guru was sitting at one end and we all entered the room and sat on the floor. The guru talked to us for awhile and then we were instructed to say "Om" three times and recite a mantra. It was all nice and enjoyable and an interesting experience. We then got back on the trishaws and headed back to the boat.
I went to my cabin, took a shower and then went to the Sun Deck (Moon Deck) and waited for the gong. At gong, I went to dinner and had fresh puffed rice, chicken broth, pumpkin curry, potato curry, rice, daal, and chapatti bread. By now we have a second boat tied up on our other side to help push us up the river. At dinner there was a crash and thump and sailors scurried about. Apparently a hawser (big rope) broke (we didn't hit another sand bar, at least). I went to my room and caught up in my journal and then went to bed.
7 Oct 2009, Wednesday
I got up at 5:30 although I had been awake most of the night. The engines of the two auxiliary boats were fairly loud and we churned away slowly upstream all night. We had to go slowly because there were many sand bars and no channel markers. I took a shower and went to the Sun Deck for coffee. I was the first passenger up, but Punnit and Raj Singh were already up. They can't be getting any sleep.
The morning is cloudy from horizon to horizon and there is a constant light rain. One of the engineers thought there might be a depression.
We will dock at Simarea (sp.?) where a bridge crosses the Ganga. There, we will load onto Swedish buses and have a 13-hour shore excursion. I talked more with the engineers about sediment type. I skipped breakfast because my stomach is starting to have problems again and I thought I had a slight fever last night. Dr. Rajvia gave me some more medicine.
We left the boat at 8:00 AM and boarded the two modern buses and drove first to Nalanda university (Wikipedia entry) (see Google Map), an archaeological site for a 5th-9th-century Buddhist university. There, I saw an anhinga and a hoopoe bird. Then we went to a tourist restaurant during a very heavy downpour for a buffet lunch. After lunch and chai, we drove to Bodh Gaya (Wikipedia entry) (see Google Maps), one of the most revered Buddhist sites in the world. It marks the site where Buddha became enlightened. There, I saw Ring-billed parakeets and Indian mynahs. After that we drove to another restaurant nearby and had another buffet dinner (by then it was dark). I didn't eat anything, but pappadom.
After dinner, we had a very long and rainy drive to the dock at Patna (Wikipedia entry). The Pandaw was late arriving because the rain was so heavy during the darkness, the pilots couldn't see. One of the engineers, a Sikh (I have his photo), told me that he hasn't slept in 70 hours because he has been watching the channel for our boat.
We walked onto the boat about 1:30 AM (a very long day). Even then the press was waiting for us in the rain. I took a shower and went to bed, just as workmen started hammering near my cabin.
8 October 2009, Thursday
I got up at 6:45, took a shower and got a cup of coffee. Men have been shouting for hours outside my cabin. I found that during the night, workmen had removed the rudder, worked on it during the night (straightening it out), and reinstalling it by about 7:30 this morning. I took photos.
Today is overcast with sporadic light rain. Monsoon is usually over by this time, but this year, it is different. I went to breakfast and had masala omelet with green chilies, toast, pineapple, cantaloupe and yogurt.
At 8:30 we left the boat and boarded a series of SUVs and mini-vans and had a very interesting drive through the streets of Patna. It is dodge and intimidation driving with a generous helping of horn honking. We finally arrived at the private estate/mansion of a prominent family. They were originally merchants from Rajasthan but moved to this area around 1919. They were very wealthy and bought lots of art at auction in Europe during and after the Great Depression. It was basically a private museum that we got to see and it rivaled many museums of Europe. I got some ladies to help me pick out some handmade silk scarves to take back home.
After leaving the estate museum, we drove to the famous Gol Ghar granary (Wikipedia entry) where we were deluged by more paparazzi. I took photos. Then we went to the Patna State Museum (Wikipedia entry) which has some exquisite antiquities including statues, bronzes, terracotta pieces, etc. I even got to see Buddha relics (ashes, etc) in a special showing just for us. Of course I was photographed by the paparazzi. The museum director, when he saw all the television cameras aimed at me, got in front of the cameras and pushed me away, so that he could talk to them. I thought that was pretty funny.
Then we went to an assembly hall and saw the most extravagant welcoming event I have ever seen. There were about 40-50 paparazzi, 30 men in coats and ties, 80 ladies in saris; we were given leis of marigold, they threw petals of marigolds at us, we had cameras and microphones thrust in our faces. We answered questions. We were led to an assembly hall where we were given food and drink. We were welcomed by speakers, prayers were chanted, musicians played their instruments, girls danced, paparazzi block all our view; they asked us up on stage, some of us danced. it was a most amazing thing. The people of Bihar state are very excited by this historic event (our river boat cruise) and the future it may bring to the region. I hope it helps. They asked me about what I thought about the poverty and I said that I had seen it all around the world, including my own country. They asked if I would consider ever returning to Bihar and I said I definitely would consider it.
Eventually, we left and came to another dock. Pandaw had moved upstream. Apparently the rudder works now, but we still have an auxiliary boat attached to us. I noticed that both of our engines appeared to be working although the starboard, not as strong as the port engine.
On board, I took a shower and went to the Sun Deck. I talked to the engineers from the river authority about sediments along the Ganges and Yamuna rivers again. Most are sands, very little gravels till one gets upstream beyond Hardivar in the Himalayan foothills. Seven entertainers then came on board. Two head massage men, a palm reader, and an oboe player entertained us. I took a few photos till it got dark. At that point, I went to my cabin to record the day's events in my journal. I also took another shower.
9 October 2009, Friday
I got up at 5:30, took a shower and then went to the Sun Deck for coffee. I saw two Eurasian Spoonbills, a Gray Heron on a sand bar and a Four-ringed Butterfly. The river is very wide here and there have been no villages or signs of humans all (early) morning. We saw four large Blue Buck Antelope (aka Nilgai Antelope), largest in all of Eurasia (Wikipedia entry). They're larger than horses. I got a photo through the haze. Also saw Eurasian Kestrel, Plain Martin, and lots of dolphins. Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark was pointed out to me by Rajvia. Later, we saw more antelopes and two jackals, and lots of dolphins. We are cruising all morning in order to reach Buxer. We were told last night that the boat won't reach Varanasi in time for our shore excursions there, so we will spend tonight on the boat and tomorrow they will take us by coach to stay two nights at a new hotel in Varanasi. We won't miss anything. I saw a herd of nine Blue Buck Antelopes.
At 12:30, I went to lunch buffet and had chapatti, rice, daal-potato dish, nice okra dish, chicken coriander soup, mixed pickle, guava and yogurt. Up on the Sun Deck we saw more antelope, three very rare Indian Skimmers. I saw a flock of seven Black Ibis, seven jackals, and three Black Buck antelopes (one very rare male, two females) (Wikipedia entry). I also heard a pack of jackals yelping. We were supposed to have a shore excursion when we reached Buxer at 4, but we didn't arrive there till well after dark (6:30).
We had evening briefing on the Sun Deck and then went down to dinner. We had very nice baked mince lamb (goat) kabobs, a carrot-orange soup, mixed vegetable (tomatoes, onion) stew, biryani rice, chapatti, potato dish with very nice sauce, and chicken. It was a very good meal.
After dinner we went to the Sun Deck. I was first there and was greeted by several musicians. They were our performers for the night. I never did get the name of the group. The director asked me to take pictures of him during the performance and he gave me his film camera. The musicians started and then an attractive pair (male and female) of dancers in costumes started their dances. The dances were very entertaining. The male dancer had one dance where he played the male role while facing us and a female role from the back (he had a female costume and face on the back). It was very funny. I took photos and short videos. The whole performance lasted about 45 minutes.
The lights on the boat have attracted literally millions of insects. The deck floors are carpeted by dead and flying insects and it is impossible to walk without stepping on them with my bare feet. I took photos of a large preying mantis. I went to bed after washing my feet.
10 October 2009, Saturday
The engines started about 5:30. I got up at 6:15, took a shower, and then went to the Sun Deck for coffee. Today we leave the boat and travel by car to Varanasi to stay two nights in a hotel. The boat is not able to make it there in time, due to the earlier breakdown. I went to breakfast at 7:30 and had masala omelet with green chilies, and also a daal dish, some sort of minced vegetable fritter, pineapple, apple, yogurt and toast.
After breakfast, I went to my cabin to finish packing. There are little insects all over the sheets, floors, shower, etc. They are leftovers from last night.
On the Sun Deck, we saw Orio (sp?) Hawk, Common Buzzard, and a thousand white, gray and black birds that formed a dense flying flock. Don't know what they are. I went to the office and paid my fees and left a tip for the crew. We tied up to the bank at Ghazipur (Wikipedia entry) and loaded into air-conditioned cars. Our luggage had been loaded previously. We drove to the Lord Cornwallis tomb here. A TV news reporter interviewed me about my thoughts of the tomb and I mentioned that my country had had a previous run-in with Lord Cornwallis before he came to India.
After the tomb we proceeded for about two hours to the Varanasi Radisson in Varanasi (Benares) (Wikipedia entry). We were greeted by musicians, reporters, girls who gave us leis, threw flowers and painted red marks on our foreheads. Other guests of the Radisson probably wondered what sort of VIPs we were. We checked into our rooms, where I immediately took a shower. We met again at the lobby at 7:30 and went to a big dining room where we had a large buffet. I was sleepy and not very hungry, so I had mulligatawny soup, rice, nan, daal, and chicken biryani. The dinner was over at 9:30. I went to my room, filled out my journal and went to bed.
11 October 2009, Sunday
I slept off and on during the night, probably because of the new environment. I got up, took a shower and joined the others for a buffet breakfast. I had a vegetable omelet, puffed bread with honey, pineapple, papaya and yogurt.
At 9:00, we met in the lobby and then boarded two large air-conditioned buses to Sarnath (pron. "Sar-nat" with a breath at the end). Sarnath (Wikipedia entry) (see Google Map) was a Buddhist site dating back to the 2nd century B.C. and marks the spot where Buddha gave his first lecture after enlightenment. I took lots of photos of the archaeological site. Then we had to deposit our cameras before we could enter the museum. This is an excellent museum with some magnificent pieces. It's also air conditioned.
After the museum, we boarded the buses and went to a silk manufacturing business in Varanasi. I took lots of photos and bought several scarves to take back home.
We then walked to our hotel (next door) and went to the Kabob Restaurant where we had an excellent, protracted meal. I was invited to the kitchen where I congratulated the cooks on an excellent meal and they showed me their tandoori oven in operation.
At 4 PM, we met in the lobby for our next excursion. I saw that the newspaper had a story about our "historic" cruise and the mechanical problem that we had. I'll save the article. Anyway, we got on the two air-conditioned buses and drove to downtown Varanasi, one of the continually occupied cities in the world. Where the streets became to narrow, we changed over to trishaws and rode for about 20 minutes till we climbed out at the ghats (steps leading to the Ganga). This is where hundreds of people are cremated every day and where thousands anoint or bathe themselves in the Gangama. We got on two boats operated by oar. We went upstream to view the ghats and the famous structures built along them. We lit little candles in little paper bowls filled with flower petals and put them in the river at dark. There were also some fire ceremonies, Aarti (Wikipedia entry), that we watched from our boat. Then we went to the Raja Ghat that was all lit up with candles for us. We went to the roof and watched a performance of ancient Hindu dances and then had a vegetarian thali dinner there. The food was very good, but I was still full from lunch. Then we boarded our trishaws, rode them for 20 minutes to our buses and made the return trip to the hotel.
I went to my room, took a shower by 10:30, wrote in my journal and went to sleep. Tomorrow is a very early and very long day.
12 October 2009, Monday
I woke up at 4:30 and made my way down to the lobby by 5:00. Seven of us, plus guide Summit, boarded a bus and headed back to the ghats. The bus was able to get closer but we still had to walk a ways through the streets. We boarded a boat as the sky lightened. The boat was oared past all the ghats as the sun came up and illuminated them. Many people were doing their spiritual ablutions. Some cremations were ongoing as well. I took several photos.
We returned to the hotel the same way and got there about 7:15 and, so I went to the cafe and had papaya, marinated figs, pineapple, sour yogurt, a pastry and coffee (breakfast was included). Then I went to my room and packed. I had to wash out my only pair of long pants, cream-colored. Last night, I wore them when they presented us with multi-colored leis. The red flowers bled on my pants as I was seated at dinner. I had dark red stains front and back. I tried to wash them out last night, but the stains wouldn't go away. I'll have to get them washed with bleach when I'm at a hotel for several days.
It will be hard to get used to not having either a military or police escort everywhere we go, and not having reporters and cameras thrust in our faces.
At 11 AM, three of us were driven by van to the airport and arrived there by 11:30. We had to wait till the Kingfisher Airlines counter opened. Then I found that the flight had been rescheduled to 2:45 PM. So we waited some more. Eventually I went through security and waited a bit more. The flight was on a twin prop, upper wing-plane. I had a bulkhead seat (probably because I was so early). We were served water, two small vegetable dishes and a dessert. It's only a two-hour flight. When I landed in New Delhi, I walked out the exit and saw a sign that said "Intrepid." It was my ride to the Clarke Heights Hotel which appears to be a clean 2-star hotel. When I was shown my room, I heard a constant jackhammer close-by. There is no way that I can relax here with that noise. I have signed up for the "Rajasthan Experience," an Intrepid comfort tour. The other members of the tour have already made an afternoon tour of New Delhi and have already gone to dinner. I received a note that we are going to depart at 5 AM tomorrow.
I went to the office and asked if there was a bar or restaurant nearby and the lady led me to a very nice roof-top bar. I ordered a Kingfisher and noticed another group of six sitting nearby. I asked if they were part of a tour group and they had just returned from an Intrepid tour to Rajasthan. I said I was just starting one. They invited me to sit with them and talked for awhile. They said that their trip was excellent (my trip is the same but just two weeks behind theirs). At 8:30, I returned to my room, caught up in my journal and went to bed. I have a wake-up call for 4:30. I changed the memory card in my camera, so I'm starting out with a new one for tomorrow.